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Kings Island opens park's fastest coaster

MASON, Ohio — A new steel roller coaster at the Kings Island amusement park opened this weekend, thrilling eager fans with twists and turns at speeds as high as 80 mph.

Jackson Thurnquist, 13, said the dizzying three-minute trip on the park's largest and fastest coaster was the best he has ever experienced, well worth the $181 in allowance money he paid to be one of its first riders.

"I would have paid one billion," said Jackson, of Montgomery, Ohio.

The park, about 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati, auctioned the first public ride on the new Diamondback to benefit an Ohio non-profit group called A Kid Again, which supports outings for children with life-threatening illnesses.

The online charity auction collected $102,000 as 256 people won the right to be on Saturday's first trips around the $22 million structure, the park said.

Some seats were donated to the non-profit and its beneficiaries.

The highest bid for a seat, $5,000, came from the Pleasanton, Calif., software company Blackhawk Network, which makes the park's gift cards.

Jacob Hartig, 15, won the official first seat and took it wearing a No. 1 on the back of his T-shirt. The teen, from Alexandria, Ky., rode with his father and said the initial 215-foot plunge was his favorite part.

The track also features two helix twists and a splashdown ending.

Dedicated roller coaster enthusiasts had given positive reviews of the mile-long track after special preview rides Friday.

"The park has really deserved a coaster like this," said Dave Altman, vice president of American Coaster Enthusiasts, who drove from Pittsburgh to try it out. "Not many coasters are being built right now because of the economy, but it was worth the wait."

Park officials said they hope the new coaster attracts visitors who are choosing to relax near home instead of taking pricey vacations this year.